» Mary/Mac/Madeleine - Frantic Amber
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Interview conducted April 09 2015
Interview published April 12 2015

Sometimes things turn out a little peculiar in this small world of interviewing metal bands. I was told earlier that I was going to speak to Frantic Amber's founder and guitarist Mary Säfstrand and the band's main songwriter and lead guitarist Mio Jäger, but when I in the end sat down to have a chat with them, Mio was nowhere to be found and I instead found myself sitting at the same table as Mary, who now was accompanied by the sole man in the band, drummer Mac Dalmanner and by bass player Madeleine Gullberg Husberg.

These unforeseen and factually quite amusing circumstances kind of early made me realize that about one third of my questions, thought of before, would have to be thrown in the trash, as songwriting and the melodic lead guitar play definitely were two of my main subjects beforehand.

Tobbe: What made you to call the band Frantic Amber?

Mary: Well, I had another band earlier and I was looking for a name, because we were called Vision and if you search "vision" you get search results of everything and more. We sat down and looked through some kind of band name generator and we found a few different names and for some reason I got hooked on Frantic Amber. It rolls off the tongue and it's a good mixture between something aggressive and something feminine and it was great with a name that didn't really mean anything.

Tobbe: Your album, Burning Insight, was actually released in September last year, but now it releases internationally via Border Music. It comprises not only new material, as it has some songs that actually were released earlier. Why did you decide to keep songs for the debut album that had been recorded earlier and not record entirely new songs?

Mary: All from the start, we wanted to have those songs on a record, you know. It's not really for the money you record an album, but to create your life's work. The truth is that we think that the older recordings of those songs don't make them justice really. At least not on the first EP [Wrath Of Judgement. Released in May 2010.], so we wanted to do it again and we wanted to do it right.

Tobbe: How would you like to describe your musical direction? …Without saying melodic death metal, which would be a quite simple answer.

Mac: It's a lot of thrash, I think, and then we have some influences from black and heavy metal, and from death metal. (Mary:) I think what is a little rare is that we try to have dynamics in all songs. We just don't wanna do one thing, but to mix speed and heavy stuff with groove and melodies really.

Tobbe: Do you try to give each song its own identity and to vary yourselves as much as possible?

Mac: Well, we don't wanna play the same song over and over again, you know. We try to play in different tempos and with different atmospheres. (Mary:) It's not something that we have put any effort in really and it has come pretty natural actually.

Tobbe: What differs your record from other records in this type of music? What do you have that others don't?

Mac: Well, it's really easy to answer this one. [Sarcasm] (Mary:) Most of the music within this genre has already been made in one way or another. We could sit here and say that we are musically unique, you know, but… (Mac:) Honestly I don't listen to this kind of music. I don't listen to Soilwork, Arch Enemy and In Flames, which are bands that we are compared to all the time. We try to mix all our influences and then people compare us to Arch Enemy because we have a female vocalist. (Mary:) We wanna do music that we think is good really, and what comes out, comes out.

Tobbe: Don't you have something that you find really original?

Mac: Every band, if you ask them, think they are original. You can always put a mark on them from the outside, but if you ask them, they would say that they really have something that's unique. Anyway, I don't think that you can put a finger on this actually. (Mary:) I would say, I think that if you see us live, which is the whole point, you notice that what we do isn't that common. Partially because we are girls, but also because we are busting our asses and there's really no other band with the things that are specific to us. Certainly this is easier because we look [!?] like girls, but although we hadn't looked like girls, I still wanna believe that no other band sounds exactly like us. (Mac:) The vocals are very original, I would say. It differs from everything I've heard anyway. She [Elisabeth Andrews] sings dynamic and varied. (Madeleine:) It's a mixture of black metal and really dark tones and deep roars.

Tobbe: The band has existed since 2008, if I'm not misinformed and…

Mary: It was actually a project before 2010, so to call it a band at that point is to exaggerate. I mean, the thoughts were there in 2008. There were different lineups of the band and we tried out different members, you know, but it wasn't until 2010 that we found our way.

Tobbe: …how has the band developed, besides a few band member changes?

Mary: I mean, I feel that we have found our sound to begin with, and that takes time. And to find the right members now, like Mac and Madde, you know, feels really good too. Everything that we have been through, like gigs with technical problems and gigs without technical problems and all that routine, you know. What do you do when you can't be heard on stage, you know? It happened to me a few times.

Tobbe: All right. Why should someone buy specifically your record and not something else?

Mary: I believe that there's something for most tastes of metal, because we mix so many styles. (Mac:) It's the impression we get from the fans. They seem to think that it has everything, you know. (Mary:) At the same time, each song stands out and I don't think there's one song that's similar to another really, but still they have a common theme.

Tobbe: What do you guys personally do to be seen more?

Mac: We film videos, because it has great exposure, and then we play live as much as possible, and often festival gigs with bigger crowds. (Mary:) We have reactivated our blog and it's now run by Madde. (Madeleine:) Yes exactly, all social medias, Instagram, Twitter and facebook. We try to increase our activity there. (Mac:) It's what it's all about today. You used to have a record company that did all kinds of work.

Tobbe: I've read on numerous sites and your label is also making us pay attention to that you're supposed to be a band that has members from 4 different countries. It's like you've picked people from all over the world, but that's not really true. Is this something that will still be noticed in the future? [Mac and Mio were born in Colombia and Japan respectively, but raised in Sweden. Elisabeth Andrews is Danish.]

Mac: It's different in different parts of the world, you know with different skin colors and origin. It's mostly abroad that people are surprised and raise their eyebrows, you know. (Mary:) And you have to say something to be noticed. It's becomes really tiring to say "Hi, we're a female fronted band", or "We're a female band" or "We're 4 women and 1 man". (Mac:) I've been asked a lot of times where I come from, in my former bands. Now we get it done right at the beginning, you know. (Mary:) I mean, our singer lives in Denmark, so it is actually an international collaboration, even if Denmark and Sweden aren't as exotic as Japan and Colombia. But it's still a part of what we are and it might reflect what we do. I'm actually not really interested of where bands hail from, but wherever you look, like on a festival and their posters where there's always a band name, followed by country. It seems like everyone thinks it's really exciting to know, and if it's really that exciting, we might as well bring it to the table right away.

Tobbe: You mentioned women and I just want to hear what advantages you gain from being a band with principally women.

Mary: You really can't have only advantages, because there's always disadvantages that come with the same advantages. One advantage is that we're sticking out more and one disadvantage is that we're sticking out too early. I mean, if we've been males and had released our first song, Wrath Of Judgement, it wouldn't have come out with so much hate on the internet as it did. At the same time, that was quite good for us, because we got a lot of views in the end. Everybody had their opinion. It was either good or bad. You really can't pick who you are, so we just try to do our thing, you know. (Mac:) It's a rather new phenomenon. Female musicians have been around for a long time, but not so many and it's dominated by men.

Tobbe: So what positive comments do you get for playing in a band with girls?

Mac: Not many actually. It's more that we get attention for what we play and that these girls are able to deliver.

Tobbe: Does no one ever ask you how it works to work with 4 girls?

Mac: People generally ask about how things work out on the road.

Tobbe: But you haven't started touring that much yet.

Mac: We've been on the road a bit. [According to the band's website there's been 11 gigs since June 2014.] (Mary:) We were in Russia recently. Earlier we were in the Netherlands and Italy and then in Umeå [Sweden]. We have tried to stick together on the road. It's not a big thing really. Every band has its issues. (Madeleine:) It depends on how you are as persons and how you function as a group, and it works out really well.

Tobbe: When you were abroad, did people recognize the songs already, through downloading and such channels?

Mary: They recognize certain songs and above all the songs we've released as videos. It's great to have the videos, because then they already know 2-3 songs. A few people have listened to live clips and such things. We haven't played that much live yet.

Tobbe: If you look at your audiences during your performances, are there mainly youngsters out there?

Mac: It depends on the venue. In Umeå, it was a great mixture of young and old. We were one of the few metal bands there at all. Generally there's a young crowd on metal shows, you know.

Tobbe: You will play a couple of festivals this summer and what will it be like to play before a crowd that doesn't have Frantic Amber as a main priority? You have in fact only released one album and there are lots of other bands playing too.

Mac: It's great. That's what we want to do, to reach out to people that normally wouldn't come down and see us. It's a great opportunity. (Mary:) We have done this a few times before and generally it has worked out fine. Many people are sceptical at first and stand in the back, but when they see that we do our thing, they approach the stage.

Tobbe: How do you combine your private life with the commitments to the band?

Mac: It's a constant quandary really. (Mary:) You have to deal with each situation as it comes really. At this point we have these gigs booked and normally you don't tour extensively during the summer. We will have to do what everyone else does, to puzzle. (Mac:) It's a known dilemma, a grey area, you know.

Tobbe: To be really successful in your type of music, in order to make money and to quit regular daytime jobs, is really hard.

Mac: If you take a look at the successful bands, they're nomads, you know. They have changed their lifestyle and it's a completely different way of living.

Tobbe: If you look forward, do you have any plans or do you take most things as they come?

Mary: When we started playing live in 2010, we really took all the gigs we could do. We needed the experience and we needed to build our routines. We said that we were gonna plan one year at a time, but nowadays it's more like we just go for it and see what happens. We don't take every gig we can and it's not so arduous anymore. But of course, we have to talk to each other about our ways of life. Will someone start to study? Will someone work somewhere? We usually solve these things just fine, so that everyone is able to do what he or she wants. I think this is the way to survive as a band in the long run. If you tell people in the band that they can't do anything else, the band won't last very long today. You have to make room for what's important and by that the band will be able to continue on a long-term basis.

Tobbe: Mary, you started this band and when you brought in new band members, what did you base your decisions on really?

Mary: It's a really tricky question.

Tobbe: Absolutely, and especially when they're sitting in front of you now, right?

Mary: I have known Mackan for a long time. Since I was 15 years old basically. I know that he's always been a great guy, always really nice and he works really hard with his bands. He has rehearsed 5-6 times a week for several years, you know. I know what he wants and he has never been an ass to anyone. Nobody has said anything bad about him. I was really safe with him and I knew that things were going to be all right with him. With Madde, it was more a gamble, since I didn't know her before. I have a friend, Tina, and it's her brother's girlfriend, whom I met at a party. Tina said "You know that Madde plays the bass, do you?" and I went "A girl that plays the bass without me knowing about it.". Not that I know everything, but I was googling and checking out ads and just keeping track, you know, since I wanna know when new female bands come out and about girls playing in general. I'm interested in the history of female musicians, which is a practically non-existent phenomenon, if you don't really look thoroughly, you know. I looked her up and she hadn't done anything. You know, like hidden under a rock. That night was actually pretty rewarding, because when I found out that she was playing the bass, we sat down and listened to records all night. (Madeleine:) We basically sat there the whole time and barely spoke to anyone else. We sat there all the time and like "Listen to this and listen to this!". (Mary:) Yeah, we just sat there. You know, we clicked. (Madeleine:) A sheer coincidence, you know. (Mary:) I didn't know how skillful she was with the bass, but she had attended music high school, so I thought that things would probably work out in the end. I went to see one of her gigs and I asked her to come down for an audition and since then she's with us.

Tobbe: Why did you begin to play the bass in the first place? I mean, a lot of people like to bang things, like a drummer, and the guitar is a more nimble, but the bass isn't as extreme.

Madeleine: I started to listen to Metallica, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden when I was around 12 or 13. I just watched videos on YouTube and saw Cliff Burton playing (Anesthesia) - Pulling Teeth and I was like "What's that sound? It sounds like a guitar, but he has a bass in his hands. How does he do that?". It was really cool. "I want to start playing the bass.". I told my old man and he wanted to surprise me and therefore, one week later, he had bought me a bass. I started to take lessons and then I attended music high school. (Mary:) I'd like to add one thing on why I asked Mackan to join. When I think about it, in whatever question I had about the drums, I used to always ask him. For instance I bought a set of drums. We had difficulties with our rehearsal room and I can't remember if we had a drummer at that point or if our drummer couldn't afford it. Mackan has helped us to rig and tune and I mean, he's really good at it and he helped us out. It's really crazy why I didn't asked him to join earlier. I think it was because of him having too many bands already. He had 3 bands and rehearsed 2 times a week with each band, so I think I didn't dare to ask him.

Tobbe: So, Mac, why is Frantic Amber something to really go for? You've been in a lot of different bands before.

Mac: It's mainly about the personal chemistry of the band. You can really tear on each other, especially on the road, but in the rehearsal room too. It should work in a lot of different aspects. The social thing is what's most important. It's also fun to play together and things start to roll now, you know.

Tobbe: Your main songwriter isn't here, but when you recorded the songs, how much of her original ideas finally ended up the album?

Mary: Quite a bit actually. Mio is a perfectionist and she doesn't try out the riff 2 times, but 50 times. She tries 10 different tempos, she changes tones, tries different rhythms and she picks the one out of the 50 that sounds the best. We mostly change things because of, for example, if there's a fill on the drums, we don't want the guitars to overtake it, as it comes out less effective and we want to make room for different things.

Tobbe: Melodic death metal is roughly death metal with a lead guitar playing harmonies. Did you ever think of not using those harmonies and instead just play regular death metal?

Mary: My personal opinion is that it's harder to create songs with melodies. Of course you can have more technical stuff, but it's harder to write a song with melodies that really stick. It's quite easy to write a bad death metal songs, so to speak. It may be hard to play it, but to write it, you only need certain elements and then you have a death metal song, you know. If you look at other bands, doing kind of the same thing, you know. I mean, if we look at female musicians, like Valhalla and bands like that, they play death metal. There are bands in both ends, but not so many in the middle really. (Mac:) It may have a lot to do with that we have a lead guitarist who writes the songs also. (Mary:) Yes, exactly. She plays other instruments as well. She plays the piano, and she sings. (Mac:) The songs on Burning Insight is written with another lineup. We have started a new kind of process to develop. (Mary:) Yes, it will be exciting. We have some new songs in the making and they already sound a little bit different actually. It will be really exciting to see what happens.

See also: review of the album Burning Insight

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